November 1, 1995 in Nation/World

Greyhound Park To Stop Racing Dogs Since Opening In 1988, Track Has Lost More Than $21 Million

Eric Torbenson Staff writer
 

Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park, Post Falls’ tourism centerpiece for eight years, will cease running live dog races Dec. 31.

Track management revealed Tuesday that ownership has lost more than $21 million since the park opened in 1988.

Despite annual losses of about $3 million, track owners thought the park eventually would make money, said Al May, operations manager. But after seven years of red ink, live racing is being put out of its financial misery.

Simulcasting, in which gamblers can wager on races from other dog and horse tracks across the country, will continue, May said. The park hopes to add more racetracks to the simulcast operation.

Nearly 200 workers - 105 full-time employees - will lose their jobs. The track-closure decision hammers the economy in Post Falls, where 113 more workers will join the unemployment lines when the Louisiana-Pacific sawmill closes in two weeks.

After years of tinkering with the track, which featured one of the lowest payouts for greyhound racers in the nation, owner Paul Bryant Jr. decided to cut his losses Monday.

Animal rights activists who have accused the track of abusing greyhounds celebrated the decision.

Idaho Gov. Phil Batt lauded the decision as well.

“The track’s never been a favorite of his,” said Amy Kleiner, Batt’s spokeswoman. “The only thing he regrets are the job losses.”

The controversy over greyhound treatment played no part in the closure decision, said May.

He said several factors contributed to the park’s dismal performance:

A gradual lack of interest in greyhound racing. Attendance has dropped 50 percent from 1992 levels, and the track’s annual handle has plunged to $8.8 million from $20 million at its peak.

Gambling competition. State lotteries, casino gambling, bingo on nearby reservations and other gambling outlets have taken big bites out of the gambling pie. When the track opened, it was nearly the only gambling play in the region. May admitted the increased simulcast operations at the park may have siphoned dollars away from live racing.

Weak Canadian dollar. Canadians used to make up 30 percent of the park’s gamblers. With the weakness in the Canadian dollar for the past two years, the number of visitors from the north has dwindled, hurting track profits.

Population. May said other successful tracks had a much larger regional population base to draw upon.

With the track hemorrhaging more money each year, management tried different combinations of races and new marketing strategies to bring in customers.

The most successful of those promotions, “The Weiner Dog Nationals,” allowed people to race their stubby-legged dachshunds on the track.

It wasn’t nearly enough. In September the track cut back its race schedule. But May, in interviews with The Spokesman-Review, steadfastly denied the track would ever stop racing live greyhounds. But the track had been considering the move to end live racing in 1994, said Doug Ray, executive director of the Idaho Racing Commission in Boise.

“I’ve known for some time that they were evaluating what to do up there,” he said Tuesday. “They applied for a racing permit, but didn’t apply for racing dates in 1995. They were just losing big chunks of money.”

To retain the right to simulcast races, the park will have to run some live racing in order to qualify for the permit, Ray said. The live racing would be minimal and a formality to retain simulcasting, May said.

The racing commission will wait to hear from the Idaho attorney general for an interpretation on how many live races are needed to qualify.

To help cut the losses on the track, the park will try to bring bingo into the 2,500-seat clubhouse. May said the park hopes to have an agreement by Dec. 1 with a non-profit group or charity to rent the clubhouse.

The plush clubhouse also could be used for community events. May said inquiries had been made about holding some Festival at Sandpoint events at the park.

The impact of the track’s closure will reach beyond Post Falls. The city and Kootenai County will lose a multimillion-dollar property tax base once the facility is revalued.

The track created an estimated $15 million in payroll that went into Kootenai and Spokane counties. Between 25 and 40 employees will remain at the facility for the simulcast operations.

The biggest hit will come at the expense of the two groups that market Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls as a tourism destination.

The Greater Coeur d’Alene Convention & Visitors Bureau already has cut staff and trimmed its marketing efforts because of smaller cuts from the track’s handle, said John Kozma, president of the bureau.

The bureau has received as much as $180,000 in annual contributions from the park. Post Falls Tourism received some of the track’s revenues as well.

Both bureaus will look for other sources of money and look to stream-lining operations. Kozma said his operation will remain strong.

“We’re going to look at working a little smarter,” Kozma said. The loss of the track won’t dim North Idaho’s tourism appeal much, he predicted.

However, marketing dollars are crucial in expanding the tourism trade here. While Kozma’s bureau receives $115,000 from the Idaho Travel Council, the dog track money provided crucial funds for marketing.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Track losses

MEMO: Idaho headline: Greyhound park to stop running dogs

This sidebar appeared with the story:

TRACK RECORD

March 1987 - Idaho legislators legalize dog racing amid promises that Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park would employ 600 people and draw up to $50 million a year in bets.

November 1987 - Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone leads racing supporters in breaking ground for the track in Riverbend Commerce Park, west of Post Falls.

February 1988 - Post Falls Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau objects to the track’s name - Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park.

July 1988 - 1,700 people apply for track jobs.

August 1988 - Track opens at cost of $10 million.

September 1988 - A dog trainer is fined $900 for drugging his dogs during the first two weeks of operation.

October 1988 - Track’s betting handle is only two-thirds of projections, then it drops to 50 percent.

October 1989 - Sixteen dead greyhounds linked to the track are found at the Kootenai County Landfill near Athol, Idaho.

April 1990 - A trainer is found to have neglected 10 of his 50 dogs.

July 1992 - Kootenai County commissioners chop track property assessment from $8.9 million to $5.9 million, saving owners $65,000 in annual property taxes.

May 1993 - North Idaho legislators say they regret legalizing dog racing amid complaints of cruelty and cheap purses. Track agrees to establish animal welfare committee and start paying for euthanasia.

December 1993 - Track starts offering simulcast dog and horse racing.

December 1993 - Nine of 14 dog kennels vote to boycott track unless management increases purses. They drop their demands when management threatens to replace them.

March 1994 - The financially strapped track appeals to the Legislature to reduce purses on some races.

May 1995 - Idaho Department of Law Enforcement begins investigating track for mismanagement, betting fraud and cruelty.

September 1995 - Idaho Gov. Phil Batt orders another investigation after The Spokesman-Review reports dogs have been electrocuted at the track.

J. Todd Foster

Idaho headline: Greyhound park to stop running dogs

This sidebar appeared with the story: TRACK RECORD March 1987 - Idaho legislators legalize dog racing amid promises that Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park would employ 600 people and draw up to $50 million a year in bets. November 1987 - Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone leads racing supporters in breaking ground for the track in Riverbend Commerce Park, west of Post Falls. February 1988 - Post Falls Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau objects to the track’s name - Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park. July 1988 - 1,700 people apply for track jobs. August 1988 - Track opens at cost of $10 million. September 1988 - A dog trainer is fined $900 for drugging his dogs during the first two weeks of operation. October 1988 - Track’s betting handle is only two-thirds of projections, then it drops to 50 percent. October 1989 - Sixteen dead greyhounds linked to the track are found at the Kootenai County Landfill near Athol, Idaho. April 1990 - A trainer is found to have neglected 10 of his 50 dogs. July 1992 - Kootenai County commissioners chop track property assessment from $8.9 million to $5.9 million, saving owners $65,000 in annual property taxes. May 1993 - North Idaho legislators say they regret legalizing dog racing amid complaints of cruelty and cheap purses. Track agrees to establish animal welfare committee and start paying for euthanasia. December 1993 - Track starts offering simulcast dog and horse racing. December 1993 - Nine of 14 dog kennels vote to boycott track unless management increases purses. They drop their demands when management threatens to replace them. March 1994 - The financially strapped track appeals to the Legislature to reduce purses on some races. May 1995 - Idaho Department of Law Enforcement begins investigating track for mismanagement, betting fraud and cruelty. September 1995 - Idaho Gov. Phil Batt orders another investigation after The Spokesman-Review reports dogs have been electrocuted at the track. J. Todd Foster


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